When I moved to Charlotte in 2007, I knew I was moving to a bigger city. Compared to my hometown, Charlotte really is a metropolis. Towering buildings Uptown, mammoth-sized suburbs, highways and traffic galore. What I didn’t expect, however, was just how conservative Charlotte is. No, this isn’t a rant about city leaders or government. Not this time. What I’m talking about now is the surprisingly well-organized religious right in the Queen City. In my mind, “big city” had always been synonymous with “progressive.” One look around the religious-political landscape here and one quickly learns Charlotte breaks that mold.
My interactions with Charlotte’s right-wing fringe have been numerous enough. I know several of the area’s anti-gay activists and leaders and they know me. In particular, Operation Save America’s Flip Benham and Coalition of Conscience’s Dr. Michael Brown have been among my chief contacts.
I used to think Benham and Brown were of the same mold. I thought both were hateful, deranged and dangerous anti-gay militants. That’s mostly true about Benham. His “Wanted” posters of a local abortion provider eventually got him convicted recently of stalking the doctor. Benham’s tactics are in your face and confrontational. Brown, on the other hand, is a little more reserved. I might even dare say he’s a little bit more respectful and polite. That doesn’t make him right, of course. He’s still wrong, still preaching exclusion and hate and pushing people away from Christ rather than pulling them in.
Chief among the many social justice lessons I’ve ever learned is the importance of seeing the humanity in all people, even in your adversaries. Many of the LGBT community’s greatest opponents actually do believe they are doing good. Deep down somewhere in their hardened heart, they sincerely believe what they do is beneficial and divinely-inspired. And, after years of interactions with Brown, I’ve finally come to see more and more of his own humanity, particularly a more private and sincere side of him I’d never seen before. I’m now convinced that Brown honestly does believe everything that comes out of his mouth.
Of course, it takes truly honest belief to make the sorts of outlandish and ridiculous statements Brown airs publicly in debates, in commentary and on his radio show. Comparing homosexuality to child rape, for example, takes some sort of deeply-rooted dislocation from reality.
In a recent commentary on his blog, “Voice of Revolution,” Brown digs into recent reports from the respected Southern Poverty Law Center’s naming of several anti-gay religious organizations as hate groups. His words provide more than ample evidence of a journey into delusion.
“There was a time when the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was highly respected for its exposure of hate groups, such as those of the neo-Nazi and KKK brand,” Brown writes. “Today, however, it’s almost a badge of honor to get a place on the SPLC listing, be it as an official ‘hate’ group or merely as an ‘anti-gay’ group. After all, now that the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, Coral Ridge Ministries, the Family Research Council, Liberty Council, the National Organization for Marriage, and the Traditional Values Coalition qualify, it’s actually a little disconcerting to be left off the ‘anti-gay’ list.”
This worldview that allows Brown to paint gay people in the same light as child rapists also allows him, somehow, to think of being named a hate group as some kind of honor. It’s this kind of thinking that truly defines Brown’s unique brand of lunacy.
I’ve struggled immensely with my thoughts, opinions and feelings toward Brown, especially in recent weeks. Since his debate on homosexuality with Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in early November, I’ve often sat alone thinking about my interactions with Brown. I’ve gone back and read many of his writings, my writings and our interactions. It’s hard to despise a man when pity starts to take over.
Brown tells us that it’s his goal to see gay and lesbian people’s lives transformed and brought to Christ. I think he honestly has faith in the power of Christ to transform. So do I. In this instance, however, I’m afraid it is Brown, not LGBT people, who really needs the transformation. He’ll never recognize or admit his words are hateful or hurtful because he’s blind to the truth, the kind of truth that really sets people free and brings them into a radically inclusive communion with each other, the world around them and the Divine. That is a truer, more Christ-like Gospel message I hope Brown one day hears and receives. : :
Note: Dr. Brown has related to qnotes his disagreement with how his position on homosexuality and pedophilia is portrayed in this editorial. qnotes can neither control nor change how Dr. Brown might perceive and interpret this writer’s opinion, just as he can neither control nor change how LGBT people perceive and interpret his words and actions. However, we are happy and feel very blessed to live in a nation where the words and actions of public figures can be debated, criticized and interpreted freely through one’s own opinion and thought. In that spirit of freedom of speech, open discussion and debate, qnotes has extended to Dr. Brown the opportunity to voice his disagreement to this editorial in a guest commentary.